Both supporters and critics of the 1991 IntermodalSurface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA, pronounced"ice-tea"), which is due to be reauthorized in 1998, say theconflict is between advocates of highways and advocates ofmass transit.
That is wrong. The conflict is betweenmobility and immobility.Two centuries ago few Americans ventured more than afew miles from their homes. A century ago travel of morethan a few hundred miles was rare. Today Americans routine-ly travel tens of thousands of miles each year. Althoughmany of the longer trips are by air, most short- and medium-length trips are by automobile. It is this mobility that isbeing attacked by proponents of ISTEA.The automobile has created a lifestyle unheard of inthe history of the world: a lifestyle characterized byextraordinary freedom of movement, immense trade in manufac-tured goods and services, high employment levels and socialmobility, and unheard-of opportunities for individuals tochoose where and how they want to live.The automobile has also created problems, including airpollution and solid waste. But rather than address thoseparticular problems, many critics, especially the New Urban-ists, as they call themselves, attack the automobile itself.Increased mobility is a sign that people "lack community."
Increased trade in goods and services is a sign of a "sickconsumerism." People's ability to live where they want tohas led to "sterile suburbs" and "sprawl."
Given a clear choice, few Americans would be willing togive up their cars and the lifestyles they make possible.Yet an extreme anti-auto view has become the dominant para-digm behind ISTEA. That has happened because the supportersof immobility have stolen the terms of the debate by claim-ing to want to reduce congestion and pollution whereas, infact, they want to increase congestion and, in effect,pollution. In truth, ISTEA· mandates for transportation a comprehensive centralplanning process that has been captured by the NewUrbanists in many cities;· gives cities huge incentives to build rail lines andother expensive but practically useless transportationprojects;